There is something special about watching Special Olympics athletes compete. If you know people with an intellectual disability involved with the Special Olympics, then you know what it’s like to watch a person give everything they’ve got.

It’s just like watching any athletes perform the sports they love – except there is an underlying air of joy.

This Saturday the Special Olympics Yukon athletes will participate in the annual Northwestel Development Games in Carmacks.

Special Olympics executive director Serge Michaud says everyone is welcome to watch as the athletes spend the day developing their skills in floor hockey, golf and swimming.

“We hope the people of Carmacks will come out and see what we’re doing,” says Michaud. “It’s fun and it’s sharing – sharing an experience.”

Watching a competition is a chance to shake up how others perceive people with intellectual disabilities, and what they are capable of.

“It wasn’t that long ago that athletes were told they couldn’t do things,” Michaud says.

The Special Olympics Yukon athletes are proving they can do things. In February five athletes from Whitehorse qualified to compete in the winter national games, and all five won a gold medal in their respective events: Tijana McCarthy and Mike Sumner won in figure skating, and Ernest Chua, Darby McIntyre and Owen Munroe each won a gold in their respective events for cross country skiing.

McIntyre was also a member of Team Canada at the 2015 World Games in Los Angeles and brought home a gold medal for the 5,000-metre race.

In the summer of 2014 Team Yukon, which included Munroe and Sumner, won the gold medal in soccer at the national games in Vancouver.

That’s just a sample of the medals the Yukoners have won. The list goes on, and gets even longer when you add in the silver and bronze medals, too. But don’t let the long list leave an impression that they’re easy to get. The athletes have worked hard and worked for years to excel.

Leslie McRae knows all about the work and dedication required. Her son Duncan McRae, who has cerebral palsy, has been competing in Special Olympics for more than 15 years. He played defense for Team Yukon when they won the gold medal for soccer in 2014.

“It was phenomenal,” Leslie says. “Some of (the athletes) were in tears because they worked so hard and played so hard – and it came down to penalty kicks in over time.”

She agrees with Michaud that it’s good to have spectators at the events cheering the athletes on – she saw the effect when family rallied around them during that critical time of the gold medal game.

“To have their family clustered around the fence – you could see their smiles,” Leslie says. “To know someone is there for them, when there are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people there. I think it’s really important for them.”

She encourages people to consider driving to Carmacks for the weekend to catch a game.

Her son Duncan says he notices when people cheer for him and his team.

“I like that they come from Whitehorse to see me compete and cheer me on,” Duncan says. “It encourages me to do good and have more fun.”

The Northwestel Development Games are for fun, giving the athletes a chance for a road trip and to get to know different communities and a chance to socialize. The games will conclude with dinner and a dance party.

“I like that after all the sports and running around we get to have some fun,” Duncan says.

The Northwestel Development Games take place Saturday, July 23 in Carmacks at the Recreation Centre. The opening ceremonies start at 9:30 a.m. and the sports start at 10:30 a.m. with floor hockey, followed by golf at Merv Tew Park at 1:45 p.m. and conclude with swimming at the Recreation Centre starting at 3:45 p.m.

For more information contact Special Olympics Yukon by phone at 867-668-6511 or by email at [email protected]